When I speak and write about mindfulness, the question I get most often is, “If I practice mindfulness, what does that get me?” I usually point to the growing body of research that demonstrates the impact of mindfulness. I also tell people that when they are mindful, they are more present and aware, and this in turn supports the development of certain leadership skills and capabilities, like attentive listening. But when you put the pile of research aside, what is the impact on our lives of living in the present, in this moment? And what does it mean to actually live that way each day?
Connect with people not technology. We give so much habitual attention to our smart phones that we have a hard time putting them away. When we have the chance to interact with others in person – loved ones, co-workers – we keep one eye (or both eyes) on our phones. We miss the chance to connect, to listen, to empathize, to share. I recently had dinner with four other people at a conference, new connections, and three of them spent most of the meal on their smart phones. I didn’t know much more about them afterwards. What opportunities do you miss when you give more attention to your phone than to the people around you?
Slow down and pay attention. The other side effect of constant email, texting, social media, and web-surfing is that it’s easy for us to feel bored. But there are things around us every day that are worth paying attention to. When was the last time you noticed the blue of the sky, or the smell of rain, or the new flowers blooming in Spring? My spouse and I go on motorcycle trips every year. We deliberately choose scenic routes and stop to take in the sights along the way. What is in your everyday experience that you haven’t noticed lately? Or ever? How does your day, your energy, your perspective change when you pay attention more?
Feel and express gratitude. I used to think if someone was doing their job, why should I thank him or her? Isn’t paid compensation enough? But now I thank people all the time – the bus driver, the coffee barista, the mailman – for the little ways they make my life easier. During employee appreciation week, Bill Marriott, the chairman of the board of Fortune 100 company Marriott International, stands at the front door of the Marriott headquarters office, shakes employees’ hands as they enter, and says, “Thank you.” Take a minute to look at the other people you interact with every day – your family, your friends – and ask yourself, when was the last time I told them how much I appreciate them? What would be different if I told them more often?
Stay focused on today. I had a number of unexpected opportunities come my way in the last year. It’s been exciting and sometimes a little overwhelming. I’d look ahead to three months from now and wonder how on earth I was going to get everything done. I made a long-term plan for meeting my obligations, but then I focus on what I need to get done today. And then when today is over, I give myself credit for what I accomplished, and I unplug from work for the evening. I’m far less stressed, and I acknowledge and appreciate the progress I’ve made. What would be the impact if your view was of a specific today rather than a nebulous tomorrow?
We often spend much of our day and lives in a reality other than the present moment – either a virtual world, or with our attention on the past or future. When we do specific things to reconnect with this day and this time, we begin to shift our experience: of ourselves, of other people, and of our environment.